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"Could this be... our first taste of victory?"
Jessie (as Team Rocket finally defeats Ash in a fair battle after 951 episodes), Pokémon the Series: Sun & Moon

Some antagonists are expected to be only a minor threat to the story's main characters, something they can be expected to defeat time and again. Threats that the heroes have dealt with many times before, and are used to show how much they have grown, because those antagonists are annoyances at best.

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Except something happened, and they're not minor threats anymore.

These minor antagonists have found some way to penetrate the main character's defenses, through some sort of Upgrade or Training. Or they're used to introduce new characters, maybe even more dangerous members of the same team or other criminals, by beating them so badly that the heroes must come to their aid. Heck, it can even be against a Villain Protagonist. The alignment of their foes doesn't matter, what matters is that the normally incompetent villains manage to score one odd moment of glory.

Regardless of how these antagonists win, it serves as a call to training/focus by the protagonists, after which, the antagonists are defeated as easily as they were before the Team Rocket Win.

Note that the antagonists must win, then later lose again in order to qualify. If it looks like they will win but are defeated at the last minute, then that's a Near-Villain Victory. If the bad guys win and the work ends, then it's also The Bad Guy Wins. If the hero sees the bad guys win in the future, then it's a Bad Future. Contrast Big Bad Wannabe, which may at times overlap.

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    Trope Namers 
  • Team Rocket, the Trope Namer from Pokémon, beat the crap out of Ash's Pokémon when they were allowed to run Viridian City's Gym using Giovanni's Pokémon, at least until Ash managed to regain momentum and beat them at their own game. There have been a few other instances where Team Rocket has been successful in battle, but it was because they were trying to do something good for a change. Their victories never lasted too long, and they were often sent flying at the end of the episode anyway.
    • Jessie (while under her Jessilina alias) has actually become competent enough to win Pokémon Contests all on her own without cheating (though she has considered it at times.) She lost out on winning her fifth ribbon needed to get into the Grand Festival, but Dawn (or rather, a Dawn lookalike by the name of Princess Salvia, long story) gave her the sixth ribbon she had just won. Jessie gratefully accepted it and made her way to the semi-finals against Dawn in the Grand Festival.
      • She had a similar run in the Kalos Showcases (under her Jessilee alias), winning three Princess Keys to get her into the Master Class tournament (which were implied to have all been won legitimately). Much like the Sinnoh Contests, Jessie lost to Serena, but was a popular opponent who made it to the Top 4 in the semi-finals.
    • In "Off the Unbeaten Path", James won a contest that involved teamwork with one's own Pokémon. He used Mime Jr. and was steadfast in playing by the rules despite Jessie's repeated attempts to encourage him to cheat. So this goes with the "Team Rocket can win if they act like good guys" rule.
      • Nearly happened when James turned out to be an expert at a sport that used flying Pokémon. Once again, he refused to cheat, and he lost by only the tiniest margin.
    • Meowth, who is usually a pitiful battler, once defeated a rival Persian in a one swipe knockout. He also managed to defeat Brock's Onix in a tournament for ownership of Togepi (albeit by throwing water on it first). He decimated a fair share of Team Plasma's Pokemon single handedly in an Enemy Mine as well, while The Power of Love once allowed him to take down several of both his foes and allies' Pokemon all at once with some Fury Swipes of Love.
      • Meowth also tends to participate with Jessie in contests and showcases, sometimes helping her with the entries she wins. His culinary skills in particular often help garner her popularity.
    • Interestingly, repeated encounters with Ash and friends has been like Training from Hell to the team, giving them superhuman damage resistance, among other things. Meowth himself commented that a powerful electric cage was nothing compared to Pikachu's electric attacks. They also learn from their mistakes, though in the process, usually make new ones. An example would be Charmander's debut episode all the way back at the very start of the original series; they use rubber coated equipment to nullify Pikachu's electric attacks, but didn't bring any fireproof equipment.
      • Heck, in some later episodes, Team Rocket actually does some heavy damage to other trainers. In general, Team Rocket manages to win when the plot requires it - Jessie fighting her way to the end of the Princess Festival tournament, Jessie and James defeating the Eevee Brothers, etc. In fact, during the Princess Festival example, Jessie used her newly-caught Lickitung to achieve a Near-Villain Victory against Misty in the final round.
      • A recurring plot twist is Team Rocket actually having Ash and his friends on the ropes until the Pokemon of the Week appears or evolves and pretty much does all the work for them. If Ash had to fight them standalone, he'd likely have lost in multiple instances.
    • This occurs even in early episodes— in "The Punchy Pokémon", various trainers are participating in a Fighting-type only tournament. Though Ash beats them in the end, the trio very successfully steals a Hitmonlee and thrashes their competition with it through a combination of regular battling and standard cheating. This is pretty notable, since they beat a Hitmonchan raised by a trainer who LEFT HIS FAMILY to train it.
    • In "The Thief That Keeps on Thieving!" they actually managed to catch the wild Pokémon that the character of the day was after and send it to their boss. Of course, he sends it back to them and it promptly evolves, giving Jessie a new Yanmega. Said Yanmega then proceeds to get as close as any Team Rocket Pokémon has to blasting off Ash & co.
    • They seem fairly competent whenever they are not dealing with Ash and co. - remember that they had wanted posters with their first appearance? - and many of their plans worked… until Ash got involved. According to Pokémon Chronicles, Jessie and James weren't just competent, they were THE BEST operatives in Team Rocket history! In fact, in their first appearance they managed to not only steal ALL the Pokémon in the center (owned by full fledged trainers) and wreck the place, BUT would have gotten away scot-free if not for Ash using a team of Pikachu to supercharge his own! Then... they stopped doing real evil in favor of following Ash around and trying to steal his Pikachu.
    • In the Best Wishes! series, they got new uniforms because of a PROMOTION.
      • Even wilder, they became competent for the entirety of that season. They almost capture Pikachu and Iris's Axew. Key and operative word: almost. During a good bunch of that season, they didn`t blast off as usual (the blasting off role was taken by a Sandile who appeared in a couple of episodes). They generally stay away from Ash and company, however, because of their new mission.
      • During that season, Giovanni gave them one mission. The goal of said mission was to collect dream energy from an abandoned research facility in order to help with Team Rocket's plans to conquer the world. While they failed to capture the Pokémon of the day, the episode where they put this plan into action basically ended with Giovanni congratulating them on succeeding and telling them that he had people looking at the energy to see what they can do with it. That's right, Team Rocket just successfully completed the first step in a plan for world domination.
      • In a two-parter based in the Nimbasa City subway system, they pull out all the stops - not kicking off their plan until Ash and his friends arrive, with Meowth having faked joining them in order to lure them into a Pokemon center where he could steal Pikachu and all the other Pokemon and load them on the subway train. The heroes catch up to their train...which is revealed as a decoy. The Subway Bosses try to track the train...only for multiple signals to show up on the monitor, throwing them into confusion. When Pikachu and the other Pokemon try to break free on their own, Team Rocket's scientist commander flies a helicopter on over to the train to air-lift it and the Pokemon up so that they can't escape. The heroes just barely come out on top, and even Cilan admits that this was one of Team Rocket's finest plans.
      • A great example of this occurs in the Kami trio two parters. In the first, they set in motion the appearance of two of the legendary Pokemon, and then wait for Ash, since they know that he'll show up. Then they use him and his friends to summon Landorus. They use the fact that Ash attracts legendary Pokemon to their own advantage. In the second, they locate an undersea ruin and are able to help Giovanni capture Ash, the gang, and Meloetta, who is the key to summoning the Kami trio again. They came close to taking over the Unova region, but Giovanni got possessed by the reflecting mirror used to transform the Kamis into their Therian Formes, and Team Rocket had to actually help the twerps break the possession before Giovanni destroyed the world (rather than just taking it over).
      • In the N Saga, though, they fell back into their old comic routine because of negative fan reaction to their new serious attitude. By X & Y, they reached a happy medium between their Best Wishes competence and their earlier complete incompetence.
    • "Dressed For Jess Success" and "A Dancing Debut" stand as the only episodes with them officially the "winner" over a member of Ash's team however (in both cases, the female companion in a performance contest). While the heroine in both instances is a Graceful Loser, nothing about the trio's victory is tainted or negated and they end the episode feeling rather pleased with themselves, par a bit of light hearted squabbling over their glory.
    • "Holy Matrimony" gets special mentioning, since Jessie and James actually make it out of the episode's dilemma rather gracefully (albeit with Meowth left chasing) while Ash's team are left behind to suffer the End-of-Episode Silliness instead.
    • In the musical Pokémon Live!, Jessie and James actually brought Pikachu to Giovanni, and they suffer no consequences for it. Likewise, you also have Giovanni's MechaMew2 defeating hundreds of trainers in a single day to capture the fighting skills and abilities of their Pokemon.
    • The most literal example of this trope happens in episode 12 of the 20th season, when Team Rocket finally manages to defeat Ash in battle. Jessie's Mimikyu even tries to attack Ash's Pikachu while it's down, and the only thing stopping Team Rocket from making off with it is the wild Bewear that was following them around.
    • Episode 25 of the above series had Team Rocket successfully obtain a Darkinium Z-crystal by defeating a Totem Raticate.
    • Z-Crystals are useless on their own though, so how do they remedy this? Not only do they manage to obtain a Z-Ring from Nanu, but James's Mareanie learns a Dark move (Knock Off) and successfully perform Black Hole Eclipse. They also obtain a Mimikum-Z so Jessie's Mimikyu can perform its species exclusive Z-move Let's Snuggle Forever.

    Advertising 
  • A GEICO spot with the characters from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) has Skeletor distracting He-Man, She-Ra and Man-At-Arms with the sales pitch "Switching to Geico could save you hundreds on car insurance" long enough for him to make a clean getaway.
    Skeletor: Catch you on the flip, suckers!

    Anime & Manga 
  • In School Rumble, Tennouji beats Harima once when the latter was in despair after finding out Tenma liked Karasuma…though he wasn't able to enjoy it because of how easy it was.
  • A borderline example. In Otasukeman, one of the series from the Time Bokan meta-series, at the end of every episode the chief of the Time Patrol asked the two main groups of the Patrol to pick a choice between two special kinds of training. One group (who really were the heroes of the series, the titular Otasukeman, and always won the battles) always picked the pleasant, relaxing activity, when the other one (who really were the Terrible Trio, the "evil" Ojamaman, and always lost against the Otasukeman) always picked the nasty, gruesome Training from Hell. In one episode, however, the Terrible Trio chose wisely and won a nice boat trip over a calm river, while the heroes found themselves in a Japanese cemetery filled with angry ghosts.
  • Sonic X had this happen once, but not when facing Sonic. Usually Eggman's schemes fail miserably, and his machines and robots are useless, but then he goes up against some Metarex that are attempting to hurt Sonic. Without warning, Boko and Deko, his worst robots, become super strong and beat everyone down, and Bokkun delivers a powerful uppercut kick, clearing a pathway for them all. On several occasions, while never outright defeating Sonic, Eggman managed to distract or overpower him long enough to get away with a Chaos Emerald. He actually gets his hands on all seven at least twice over (though on both occasions uses them on a haphazardous death machine).
  • At the end of the first arc of Digimon Fusion, Bagramon easily takes all the Code Crowns and reconfigures the Digital World. Taiki, Akari, Zenjirou, and Shoutmon are blown back to Earth. While they're gone, Kiriha and Nene are forced into hiding, Xros Heart is captured, and the Digital World comes under worse oppression than before.
  • Tentai Senshi Sunred:
    • Florsheim once brought a werewolf to do battle against Astro Fighter Sunred… On an overcast night. After spending several hours waiting for the beast to transform, Sunred had had enough and went home. Vamp wonders if they can call this a 'win' until one of his combat goons tells him they probably can't.
    • In another story, new, more evil-oriented villains invade the neighborhood, only to discover that the Florsheim minions are Not So Harmless Villains. Armor Tiger wasn't even wearing his armor at the time!
  • Happens at least once per season in the Pretty Cure franchise, whenever The Dragon of the Big Bad faces the heroines before The Dragon gets hit by The Worf Effect or Villain Decay.
    • In episode 10 of Star★Twinkle Pretty Cure, Kappard, Tenjo, and Aiwarn actually beat the Cures in a fight following a power up and take both the Aries Pen and the Taurus Pen. Of course, being the bad guys, they lose both later into the series- losing the Taurus Pen first following a Fusion Dance in Episode 11, then losing the Aries Pen in episode 24 after Aiwarn is defeated after going One-Winged Angel.
  • Happens during episode 26 of the first season of Twin Princess of Wonder Planet. Prince Shade reveals a tremendous amount of badassery but is too late to stop the Minister's goons from stealing the Prominence from Fine and Rein. What's worse is that he had to save Prince Bright from falling to his death and therefore let the goons get away with the Prominence.
  • In Chihiro Kagachi And The Bogeymen, Doctor Zweiback actually got a one-dollar bill from Hinata because Hinata had slipped on a banana peel.
  • In the SD Gundam Force episode "Attack of the Big-Zam!", the Dark Axis Trio use the titular super-tank to attack the SDG Base, planning it to bring it down onto Neotopia. And though the SDG is able to move the base away from the city, the base still comes down...right onto the Big Zam itself, trapping the Trio and putting them out of commission for the rest of the arc. However, they still accomplished their mission, and with the SDG away to do repairs, the rest of the Dark Axis is able to invade Neotopia en masse.
  • Zenigata does actually catch Lupin III from time to time, which usually leaves him realising that Victory Is Boring. Of course, getting Lupin to stay in prison usually turns out to be just as hard as catching him.
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    Comic Books 
  • Anytime The Shocker does anything right, it counts as this. But what stands out in particular was his appearance in the Ultimate Spider-Man book, where after countless, effortless losses to Spidey (who slammed the point home by cracking jokes), he managed to knock him unconscious. He then tied him up with chains, ranting and torturing him, and likely would have killed him if not for Kitty Pryde and the NYPD finding his location.
  • Spider-Man has been beaten by Stilt-Man twice. (Spidey himself rates the two incidents as numbers 3 and 4 among his "10 Most Embarrassing Moments" in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #12.)
  • In The Powerpuff Girls story "Smart And Smarter" (Cartoon Network Block Party #59), Mojo Jojo outwits Blossom, with her sisters' blessings! Blossom (who let her ego swell after being admitted to a special school) blows her ice breath which Mojo counters with a heat shield. The trail of melted ice reaches Blossom's foot (which she doesn't see) and she emits static electricity from her hands which in turn fries her to a frazzle. The ending panel has Buttercup shaking hands with Mojo.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer issue Harmonic Divergence, part of Season Eight of the sequel comic, the vampire Harmony, probably the biggest joke villain in the original series, actually manages (somewhat accidentally) to kill a slayer, Soledad, who tries to assassinate her, and uses media coverage of the attack to become a celebrity vampire rights advocate.
  • Dick Dastardly wins in two stories of Wacky Races but there were catches to them:
    • In "The Scavenger Scramble" (Gold Key #7), it is stated a big purse is at stake. Dastardly wins and receives the prize—a big, flowery ladies' purse.
    • In "Trek to Tasmania" (Archie Comics #1), Penelope Pitstop deliberately helps Dastardly win as she was working for a secret agency investigating a despotic and corrupt king with whom Dastardly is in cahoots.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • In Cars, when Lightning brakes hard at the finish line, reverses, and pushes "The King" across. This time, however, when Hicks wins, he's the only one celebrating and is shocked when everyone starts booing him. Since he cheated by intentionally wrecking "The King" in the first place, he had no business being shocked.
  • Megamind's plot starts rolling when Megamind finally (Or so Metro Man made him think) defeats his arch-nemesis Metro Man, which is lampshaded by both Megamind's sidekick and the entirety of Metro City early on and Metro Man much later.
  • Zig-zagged with Wreck-It Ralph. The title character, a figure in a 30-year-old video game is tired of being the "bad guy" and schemes to get a medal to prove he can be a good guy. After accidentally landing in another game, Sugar Rush, he helps an outcast little girl, Vanellope Von Schweetz, win a race, but he has to deal with the game's evil boss and a swarm of cy-bugs which were brought in from another game to this one.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Great Race, the main character Leslie stops just short of the finish line and lets the Harmless Villain team win to show The Chick that he loves her enough to give up the race. Professor Fate becomes livid about this, and challenges Leslie to another race, despite having spent the entire run of the film cheating as hard as he could physically manage, because he wanted to win on his own terms and not have it handed to him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Power Rangers:
    • In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Zedd and Rita would pull this off at least once a season. This usually involved the zords being destroyed and re-formed, and as such, usually happened when they had run out of Sentai footage and/or just in time for an action-figure shopping season. Topped by the series finale of Mighty Morphin, as the two actually do succeed in not only leaving the Rangers powerless, but also destroying the Command Center. Damn.
    • In Power Rangers Turbo, Divatox does the same thing.
    • Power Rangers in Space has an all out attack on the galaxy with the Space Rangers and their allies all losing. They only survive because of Zordon's Heroic Sacrifice.
    • And in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, Psycho Pink manages to actually kill a Power Ranger. She stabs a morpher with the Savage Sword, which created a massive vortex that threatened to destroy Terra Venture. The only way to stop it was Kendrix crawling inside and hitting it with the Quasar Sabre which killed her. Of course Psycho Pink is quickly defeated by the other rangers in their Megazord.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The episode "Victory of the Daleks", which was exactly what it said on the tin; that is to say that the Daleks managed to accomplish their main goal and escape to tell the tale.
    • Technically, "Asylum of the Daleks" pretty much counts as a win: the Daleks got the Asylum destroyed and all got to live at the end, retaining their (implied) massive space empire, too. They do lose all their memories of the Doctor, but then get those back in short order.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation had the episode "Data's Day", where the Romulans managed to win one of the series' tense Neutral Zone stand-offs, recovering their spy and forcing the Enterprise to retreat. This is lampshaded by Commander Riker who notes "Some days, you get the bear; some days the bear gets you."
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Our Man Bashir" combined Teleporter Accident and Holodeck Malfunction to recast several of Bashir's crewmates as characters in his James Bond-esque spy holonovel. The holonovel's script is intended to play out with either the Hot Scientist or Femme Fatale Spy being killed, and Bashir killing the Big Bad in retaliation, but as doing so could kill his crewmates, Bashir decides that the only way to win (i.e. rescue them) is to allow the Big Bad to win.
  • The Charmed ones don't always get away without a scratch. The list is actually quite long:
    • Inspector Rodriguez comes very close in the season 1 finale which has a time loop. Phoebe is killed in the first loop and Piper as well in the second. The only thing that helps the sisters is that Phoebe gets strong deja vu vibes whenever time resets.
    • Ginny in "I Dream of Phoebe" wishes the sisters dead. Of course they're still around as ghosts to ensure they don't stay that way. One of them possesses Ginny and tricks her into wishing them alive again (Aladdin rules don't apply here).
    • When Prue is turned into a teenager without her powers, she falls victim to a Dragon Demon and again has to be wished alive by a genie.
    • Phoebe and Paige are killed during a fight with Billie and Christy when the powers being used causes the manor to explode. Time Travel and Billie's projection power come in handy to ensure that it doesn't stay that way.
    • Phoebe and Paige are killed again in "A Witch In Time" when a warlock is able to strip them of their powers and incinerates them. Piper only narrowly escapes when Leo intervenes.
    • Quite possibly the most successful of all. The upper level demon Shax managed to kill Prue at the end of season 3. For good. In the same episode, Piper was also shot dead by a simple human; the second was undone thanks to a deal with the demon Tempus to turn time back by a day, but this resulted in Prue's permanent death.
  • The LazyTown episode "Robbie's Dream Team" has Robbie successfully capture and incapacitate Sportacus when he managed either but not both in previous episodes. His plan only fails because his henchmen fall asleep on guard duty and the kids manage to get Sportacus an apple to regain his strength.
  • The Nanny: During the later seasons, C.C. Babcock would occassionally score some victories against Niles in their games of wit. Interestingly, this coincided with C.C. becoming a Defrosting Ice Queen, too.
  • The Office (US): After years of being pranked by Jim, Dwight manages to trounce him in a snowball fight. For the rest of the day, Jim is at Dwight's mercy and so shaken from his unexpected defeat that he can't come up with any effective retaliation.

    Music 
  • Lampshaded in Billy Preston's "Will It Go 'Round In Circles":
    I got a story, ain't got no moral,
    Let the bad guy win every once in awhile.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • In Puerto Rican pro wrestling, it was a tradition to put men such as Stephano and Tom Danniels in a women's division for a time solely to show off how strong the women were (Danniels was a World Champion!). However, exoticos Barbie Boy and Queen Adonis actually won women's gold in the International Wrestling Association and New Revolutions Wrestling Lucha Libre.
  • After Seth Rollins betrayed SHIELD-mates Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to join The Authority, and then went on to win the Money In The Bank briefcase, he declared would face a special opponent, worthy of his greatness, in an exhibition match. In true dickhead heel fashion, the "mighty" opponent he picked was notorious jobber, Heath Slater. But Dean Ambrose was still incredibly bent out of shape over Rollins stabbing him in the back, and shortly after the match started, came down to the ring to heckle Rollins and mess with the Money In The Bank briefcase. These distractions kept letting Slater get the upper hand temporarily, and ultimately lead to Slater pinning Rollins in the middle of the ring, to the extreme delight of the crowd, and Ambrose absconding with the briefcase in order to further screw with Rollins.
  • While he was working for Fighting Opera HUSTLE, Yoshihiro Tajiri decided to invade New Japan Pro-Wrestling, by himself, and managed to force his way into the 2009 G1 Climax. Despite failing to advance after finishing last in his block, he did manage to defeat the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi!
  • When WSU was acquired by Beyond Wrestling, they proceeded to run over the Beyond Roster, including sweeping the guys in a face off. When CZW acquired WSU, the Juicy Product actually won the tag team title belts though.

    Video Games 

    Webcomics 
  • At one point in Plague's Misadventures, one of the hosted comics in Bob and George, Sigma, who in this series is pretty much a nuisance Harmless Villain, actually succeeds in bringing down the space colony and bringing about the end of the world when the heroes shoot it down with the giant canon.
  • The Dimension of Pain demons from Sluggy Freelance, from their inception, had been largely Harmless Villains. When Torg wound up in their dimension, he easily withstood their attempts at torture, outwitted them, and escaped. After that they repeatedly tried to recapture him every year, but they could only send one demon at a time, only on Halloween night, and it could only stay until sunrise, and they inevitably failed in humiliating ways, to the point where Torg threw Halloween parties with the demons advertised as the main attraction. Throw in their wacky antics during the "Meanwhile In The Dimension of Pain ..." strips, and no one really took them seriously. Then "That Which Redeems" came along, and with the demons finding a way to bypass their previous limitations, suddenly they're conquering entire countries, butchering helpless bystanders, and outnumbering Torg 1000 to 1. Not to mention killing off Alt-Zoe.

 
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Expecting A Happy Ending?

After Bugs' trick is revealed, Elmer becomes enraged and unleashes the full power of his magic helmet on Bugs with intent to kill. He succeeds, but comes to regret it.

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